June 2020

Sex offender, 63, spared jail because of Covid problems in prisons

Horrendous conditions in prisons caused by the coronavirus crisis helped to save a man from being jailed after he asked a teenage girl to send him an “intimate” picture of herself.

The fact that serious problems were rife in prisons and inmates were having to spend up to 23 hours a day cooped up in their cells proved to be a lifeline for him.

The girl had been left very upset by what happened and was shocked that he later tried to blame her, a court heard.

Lee Hingston, 63, of St Helen’s Avenue, Grimsby, admitted inciting a girl to engage in sexual activity on April 21 last year.

Jeremy Evans, prosecuting, told Grimsby Crown Court that Hingston sent a phone message to a teenage girl saying: “Text or send a photo later tonight xxx” and another reading: “I’ll look forward to it.”

He sent another message saying: “Let me know when you’re in your room xxx” and asked if she wanted a photo of him.

He later sent a message saying: “I would like an intimate photo of you xxx” but she asked him: “What do you mean ‘intimate’?”

The girl sent him a selfie photo of herself and Hingston replied: “You look really nice.”

The girl’s mother became aware of the messages and Hingston was confronted.

He claimed that he was trying to call out the girl’s behaviour and that she instigated it.

“He stated that he didn’t want to get the little girl into trouble,” said Mr Evans.

“He was quite aware that what he had done was wrong.”

The police were contacted.

The girl later said: “I do get upset about it. He thought it was all right to blame me. It’s always in my head going round.”

Craig Lowe, mitigating, said that the words used by Hingston were limited in the extreme and he had shown remorse.

“He would like to apologise wholeheartedly to the complainant and to others that he has hurt by his short-lived and wholly out of character behaviour,” said Mr Lowe.

“It’s clear that similar offending will not happen again.”

Judge John Thackray QC told Hingston: “You behaved in an appalling and disgusting manner and you should be thoroughly ashamed of yourself.

“Your first instinct was to blame the complainant.”

Hingston had asked the girl to delete the messages.

“The complainant was understandably extremely upset by your actions,” said Judge Thackray.

But he spared Hingston from being sent to prison partly because of the effects of Covid-19 and the serious problems this was causing in prisons, including inmates having to spend very long periods in their cells, sometimes up to 23 hours a day.

The coronavirus crisis had been made a mitigating factor which courts could now take into account.